Monday, March 29, 2010

Essential Online Business Software For Startups

You've decided to take the plunge. Finally go off the deep end. You swing open the door to your manager's office, walk back to your desk and begin to sweat. A cocktail of stress and jubilation spills down your body from head to toe. Your feet start to move and then you are walking, out the door, down the elevator, into the city, and then out into the world. You've decided to start your own business- escape the grind and finally pursue your dreams. You're free. You're screwed.

Then comes the details. You need to strategize - figure out what needs to be done to get it rolling. What kind of paperwork do you need to fill out? How are you going to find your employees- designers, developers, sales, recruiters? Where will your office be? Where can you find advice from those who have already gone through this chaos? What if you have a patent to submit? How will you collaborate with your contractors? How can you keep track of money, prepare for taxes? What about business cards, business plans, PR initiatives and exit strategies?

These are just a fraction of the questions a small business owner needs to answer when forming a start up. Fortunately, there are a host of new and cutting edge Web 2.0 software tools that have been created to help answer these questions. Today's entrepreneur can utilize a variety of enterprise software applications that will help them get on their feet without giving away an arm and leg of their nest-egg. I've created a list of some of my favorites- feel free to contribute with any others that you know of.

Basecamp: For your project management and collaboration needs, basecamp is a web tool that allows a small business to interface with clients and collaborators. It has an incredibly intuitive UI that allows an entrepreneur to keep their head on straight while managing several projects at once.

Dropbox: A nifty web application that rids you of need to carry around USB flash drives or larger external hard drives. Dropbox allows you to synchronize various computers to common accessible folders. Its as easy as drag and drop, and allows several collaborators to share files wherever they are, without the hassle.

Google Docs: Google Docs provides a suite of online MS-office-esque applications that all are extremely accessible and easy to utilize. Whether you want to create a spreadsheet that tracks potential clients, or an online word-doc business plan, Google Docs allows multiple collaborators to contribute simultaneously, instead of the tediously sending a document back and forth via email.

Odesk: Odesk is an online web tool that allows a small business employer to outsource work to freelancers around the world. While an entrepreneur must be weary about those bidding to do work from overseas for a fraction of the cost, very often Odesk provides a great interface for a variety contract jobs. The online application allows an employer to adeptly track their freelancers, from up-to-date progress updates to an actual live webcam feed of their hire.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the most popular and free social networking tool for business professionals. You can essentially post your online resume and qualifications, as well as list your current business venture and why its great. One useful feature on the social-networking side of things is the ability to get in touch with other local small business owners, who may have helpful advice for you. It also provides a great forum to let your client's tell the world about all the great work you've done for them through the recommendations engine.

Newton On Demand: Newton provides an online software service for your company's recruiting and applicant tracking needs. Easier to use than many of your favorite websites, Newton's online recruiting software enables your entire hiring team to access, manage and share recruiting information across your entire company. The great thing about this piece of software is that it is extremely intuitive to use, allowing hiring managers and recruiters to easily collaborate from wherever they are.

Zazzle: Whether you want to design your company's business cards, coffee mugs, or kickball Tees, Zazzle provides a great online tool for enterprise branding. Although things like these may seem ephemeral when trying to make deadlines, some branding can go along way for your small business identity and marketing.

Twitter: If getting some attention in your niche is what your small business needs- Twitter is a great tool to keep fans, clients and family alike updated with the latest news. If utilized effectively, Twitter can be a modern day PR agency, minus the headache of management and associated costs.

QuickBooks: This time-tested financial software package is still as relevant as ever. I recommend getting set up with QuickBooks from day one to track every dollar going in and out of your business. The intuitive interface and online access makes it a breeze to create invoices, track payments and manage your small business expenses.

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